It was an annoyed Alain Vigneault who met with reporters after Rangers practice Tuesday, a coach who has seen enough inconsistent play from his .500 team through 28 games, and one who cut to the chase as to what the team needs in order to turn the corner as a group.
"We are no different from any other team in the NHL, if we are going to get some traction and get past that .500 level we need our top players to play consistently like top players," Vigneault stated Tuesday. "It can't be a period in, a period out, or game-in and game-out. We need that core group, the leaders of this group, to perform accordingly."
Vigneault did not publicly call out any players by name, but he clearly was challenging the Rangers top players and leaders like Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan, Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Marc Staal, and Dan Girardi to step forward and lead the rest of the group to greater heights. The common thought process is that if a team's best players are playing up to their ability on a consistent basis and are a team's hardest workers both on game days and practice days, then the other players will follow in line.
With the Rangers sitting at 14-14-0 on the season, and having failed to move more than one game over the .500 mark yet this season, inconsistent play, execution, and effort is at the heart of what Vigneault shared with reporters---and most likely his team---Tuesday.
"Just look at our lineup, look at our core group, and look at our key guys, and there's the answer,"said Vigneault.
Callahan snapped a nine-game goal drought Monday, but the Rangers still lost to the Jets 5-2 at Madison Square Garden. That loss eerily resembled similar such defeats last week in Tampa and Boston, and even a somewhat sloppy win in Florida, which seemed to make Vigneault angrier by the day. That anger was bubbling right underneath the surface following Friday's 3-2 defeat in Boston, just as it was after Monday's loss to Winnipeg, and again post-practice Tuesday.
"You like to see that in your coach, that he cares so much, that a bad loss angers him that way," noted Chris Kreider. "That's the kind of coach you want to play for."
Lundqvist, of course, watched back up Cam Talbot start the last two games, and will carry an 8-11-0 record, 2.51 goals against average, and .917 save percentage into his next appearance. Staal and Girardi have been up and down on the back end, and both have plus/minus marks that are weighed down as such. Nash and Richards both have been more consistent with their play and production, but they are clearly both in the leadership group Vigneault referred to, as well.
"I've been playing my game the past few weeks, it's just a few mistakes here and there you need to take out of your game," explained Lundqvist on Tuesday. "It's about doing the same things, but cutting down on a few errors."
Vigneault said he wasn't at the point of threatening to take players out of the lineup to get his point across, but he clearly is looking for change--and consistency--sooner rather than later.
The Rangers next face the Sabres up in Buffalo on Thursday night and then played nine consecutive home games at The Garden. Vigneault said he would make lineup decisions moving forward later today and announce them on Wednesday.